Monday, December 19, 2005

My New Community, Volunteering, and some thoughts on Street Art

This might be a long, rambling post, but I've had some thoughts on my mind lately that I'd like to get down on paper the internet ether.

I have technically lived in DC for just over three years. What I mean is, I lived in an apartment with a district address, but I didn't really live here. My friends and I went to school, went to the library, and occasionally we'd go to a restaurant or bar in Georgetown, Dupont, or Adams Morgan. Except for the occasional popular concert at the 930 Club, we never went to local events, art shows, or even the many Capital attractions.

Now that I've graduated and have moved out of sterile Cleveland Park to the multicultural and historic U Street corridor, I've started to feel connected to the city in a way I never did while I was in school. My roommate and I subscribe to the Washington Post and - even as a long-time news hound and political buff - I've started skipping over the front page to get straight to the Metro section. I want to know why the family-run businesses - that make U Street what it is - are being forced out by increasingly escalating property taxes; I want to know why the eff DC is building some billion dollar stadium with my tax dollars (I don't even like baseball!); I even want to know about the double-standard double-parking situation outside the church on Vermont Ave ("Want to avoid parking fines? Join a church!"). I spend my work days finding blogs written by locals who can keep me updated on what's going on right outside my door.

I did a lot of volunteering while growing up in my hometown. I built houses for Habitat for Humanity, cleaned up the beaches, and ran canned food drives. All this was for a town that was largely wealthy, or at least the lack of urban-ness helped to conceal any problems lurking underneath. Now I walk through this city, my new hometown, seeing the homeless on every corner, hearing about long-time residents being pushed out of their homes, and dealing with increasing violent crime (not to mention living mere miles away from a corrupt Administration who could care less about anyone's problems, much less those they can see from their White House and Congressional office windows). I see all this and wonder how I could just sit back and not do anything?

The first step, at least, is to care what's happening. To pay attention. And let's be honest, that's hard for a lot of people. I easily ignored it all for three years. Now I have to do something. I've been talking to my good friend Chai about opportunities in the city, and she recommended doing pro-bono work at some legal clinics, so I've been persuing that. I'd realy love to get into tutoring, but the more I look into one-on-one volunteering, the more I realize that's going to have to wait until my job situation is more settled. I can't commit to teach a kid every Wednesday night and then end up getting a temp gig where I work 120 hours a week. There are other things out there though, one-time shots like volunteering for local food drives or fundraising races.

Aside from participating in community solutions, I think there is a lot to be said for seeking out and supporting local art. Chai and another good friend I made recently, Sylvie, have been totally on my page with this one. Chai and I are going to check out an open mic night tomorrow at Busboys and Poets, and will hit up the PostSecret exhibit after new year's. Sylvie let me drag her on an unsucessful attempt at checking out First Friday's, when all the art gallaries in Dupont are supposed to be open...except they weren't. But, we'll get some better information next time and try again. I'm just excited about seeing some real culture in this town - the photographers and painters and musicians who have something to say about this city and this time we live in.

I was going to talk about street art, but I think I'll leave that as a sequal to this post later on this week, since it's going to be long all by itself.

So I'll just say, I don't usually make new year's resolutions, but I think I'm going to set some goals for myself for the coming year. I'm going to focus on, well, getting my shit together. All this talk about art and volunteering are also about me trying to make myself a better person, which may be selfish, but I think it's a healthy kind of selfishness. Because, if I'm an active member of this community (with, um, a full-time, permanent job one of these days?), it can only be good for both my own well-being and the people around me. Right?


At 4:48 PM, December 19, 2005, Blogger Roonie said...

Now you're making me jealous. I MISS DC! What a great effing town.

Oh, and as for the baseball stadium - the nation's capital really oughta have a team and a place to play our country's national pasttime. Don't you think?

At 4:55 PM, December 19, 2005, Anonymous Kirk Diogu said...

i'm impressed by your volunteer ethic. i think it's quite admirable.

i'm with roonie though, a baseball stadium would be nice. it's my understanding that funding for the stadium is actually from corporate gross receipts and stadium revenues, and not from individual income assessments. it's actually a fairly sophisticated lease arrangement.

At 4:59 PM, December 19, 2005, Blogger Heather said...

Yeah, I know I'm probably alone (well, not alone, but in the minority) when it comes to the baseball arena. For a pretty good breakdown of the costs (and it will include federal tax dollars, though not DC city taxes), check out the two articles in the DCist today.

At 10:14 AM, December 20, 2005, Blogger Chai said...

hey, i'm totally with you on this stupid ballpark. yeah, in theory, it would be great for the nation's capital to have a stadium in honor of our nation's passtime. however, our nation's capital consists of very poor people who get taxed up the whazzoo for the ballpark that is being put in their area, pushing them out of DC and afforable housing to prince george's county.

i think if we are going to have a ballpark, like other cities, NLB should be paying for it, like they do in other cities. we are the bitch of the federal gov't already, i don't want to be the bitch to a the baseball league. it's just NOT fair.

off the soap box. i'm glad that you are starting to get connected with dc. i love that feeling because now i feel so much more at peace with where i am and living.

At 1:19 PM, December 20, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

the people aren't being taxed for the stadium. corporations agreed to be taxed on certain profits & revenue from concessions - those are the sources of the financing.

At 2:22 PM, December 20, 2005, Blogger Heather said...

Anon - like I mentioned above, you can find a good breakdown here, which explains that a good $12 million a year will be shared between federal taxes and large DC business. So, while the whole billion isn't coming out of my pocket, certainly some of it will, and frankly, I'd rather pay utilties on a brand-new school.

At 6:15 PM, December 20, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

it's not really an either or proposition, but i hear you. federal gov't is paying for utility taxes - more of infrastructure costs than stadium costs. i think this has something to do with the fact that d.c. isn't a state and is run in conjunction with federal funds. i think you should just kiss your .0004 cents goodbye. sorry :(


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